Eva met with the blackmailer alone in the quaint little pub where it had all begun. Such nice surroundings for such a horrible event. She had muffled herself up despite the unseasonably warm English weather, a yellow hat Alex had given her tucked around her ears. Moral support.
"Hey!" The blackmailer grinned widely when he saw Eva, a leer crossing his scruffy face. "The Spanish girl!" Eva couldn't believe she'd even touched this creep voluntarily. Disgusting! Silently, she pressed the cash, the amount she and the girls were able to raise, into his hands. For a moment, he looked stunned - gobsmacked his ridiculous scheme had actually worked. Then he flipped through the bundle and frowned, greed taking over again. "You're short. You don't think I can count?" In that moment Eva knew she had to follow through the rest of the plan Six had worked out. She couldn't talk him out of it, couldn't even just count on him taking the money and leaving her alone. If she didn't get free now, she'd be in this slime's clutches forever. Eva sent the text she had cued up on the phone in her pocket, one quiet press of a button.
"Eva!" The girls burst in, pretending to be surprised to find her there. "Eva, where were you?"
"You're late! Where's my money?" the blackmailer scolded, acting like they were all there to do his bidding, "Where's my fucking money?"
"Here's your money," said Belen, pressing another wad into his hands. Another crazy grin filled his face - the total was definitely the full amount. Ten thousand pounds. He gloated over it, flipping the notes back and forth in his hands.
"We were worried about you," said Belen, grabbing her hands tightly. A silent apology still hung in her eyes for leaving Eva alone that night with the blackmailer.
Don't apologise, thought Eva. Get even. "I was sorting out my life," she said.
"What's all that money?" asked Tatiana, frowning at the first wad in the blackmailer's hands. It hadn't been part of the plan, but Eva had wanted - maybe her heart was too soft - to give him an honest chance. To really give him all the money and see what he'd choose to do.
"The ring," realised Six.
"Yes," said Eva quickly. "It's fine." They'd get it back from the pawnbroker. After they'd dealt with this jerk.
He turned and looked up again, eyes alight with greed. "How about I keep the photos," he suggested, holding up his phone, "And get some money every month?" Tatiana looked upset, clearly disappointed to find out he really was as slimy as they thought. Eva just frowned. How could anyone be so cruel? Six hissed fury and went for the attack early, lunging at him.
"Get back, bitch! Or I'll fill the Internet with her tits!" he threatened, holding the phone up out of reach and waving it.
Suddenly, Eva's phone rang. Alex! "It's Alex," she said quietly, and went to answer it.
"No, no, no!" said the others frantically, "Wait, not now!" Right. The plan. It was past time. "8, 9, 15 ... Now!" They screamed in unison and charged at him. Six kneed him in the groin while Belen and Tatiana grabbed his arms, twisting them behind his back and taking the phone.
"Come on, Eva!" they shouted. Six cleared out of the way to give her a shot and they looked at her expectantly. But Eva was frozen. She couldn't move. "Eva, Eva!" The blackmailer stood stunned that the tables had been turned, face blank like a fish on a hook. As he looked at her, fear filled his eyes. And somehow, Eva could move again. How dare he try to ruin her wedding day? How dare he touch her, take pictures of her while she was unconscious! She stepped forward into his light and he cringed back. Eva took her time to line up the punch, socking him in the nose. She felt a crunch and he fell backwards to the floor like a sack of potatoes, the girls letting go of his arms.
"Ouch!" Eva said, shaking her hand. It hurt a lot more to punch someone with a bare fist than she'd thought!
"Wow, how about that," said Belen, her perfectly made-up face in an unusually fierce grin.
The girls got in some more blows while he was on the floor. "Fuck you!"
"This is for being a blackmailer!"
He howled in pain.
"And this is for banging that Thai masseusse on our honeymoon!" screamed Belen, getting a little carried away. Six raised an eyebrow. "What, I took it personally!"
Eva was getting another phone call, and this time she answered. It was Alex, and he was coming! Get everything ready, he said. There was a strange sound behind his voice, like a chattering. Was he on a plane? He didn't reveal anything, just told her he had a plan. Alex always had a plan!
"Take that!" shrieked Tatiana, getting in one last hit on the blackmailer, crumpled into a heap on the floor.
"Girls," said Eva, quite calmly under the circumstances she felt, "I'm getting married in two hours!"
They turned to her and screamed with excitement. "Let's go, come on, let's go!" Carried away by wedding frenzy they all ran out the door to (once again) get everything ready, leaving the blackmailer lying in a heap on the pub floor. He grimaced in pain on the sticky floor, a look of sheer shock on his face. "I didn't even shag her," he whined, un-noticed.
Eva and the girls burst into the house. "We have to get everything ready!" shouted Belen.
"And get my ring back," remembered Eva. She'd assumed they'd have all day to retrieve it!
"We have to see the pawnbroker," said Six.
Too late, they saw Alex's mother coming down the stairs. "Hey, hey, hey!" Her snooty look sized them up. "What pawnbroker, what ring, what wedding? What's going on here? Eva!" she commanded, "If you're making another scene, I want to know what's going on."
"You do?" asked Eva distantly. Alex was finally coming! From some reserve she never knew she could access, Eva continued in an even voice, smiling, "Before I met you, I thought you'd be a mother to me, not an enemy. You never treat me well. I'm tired of smiling and then being tortured by you." Eva took a deep breath. "But if you're asking me what's going on right now? I'm marrying your son in an hour and a half. So if you want to help, help. Otherwise, don't trouble yourself." Eva marched past the stunned old trout to the stairs, then whirled around once more. "Oh, and 'sweetie', one more thing. Leave my friends alone. They're the best in the world." Belen, Tatiana and Six stared at her, smiling and hugging each other. Tatiana was clearly trying not to cry. "Why are you just standing there?" teased Eva, "We've got a wedding to prepare!" They got moving then, a whirlwind of talk and plans. The elephant had to go back up, and the 'LOVE' signs, and where was the caterer when you finally needed them? Time to put the gazebo back up! Time for action!
Eva's mother-in-law stood frozen on the stairs, a little shocked. Huh. So Eva had some backbone after all! Maybe she would be good enough for her Alex. If he would only arrive...
On the 'tour bus of love' things were getting serious. The aisles were crowded with would-be wedding guests trying to reassemble their finery after the wreckage of two days' travel. Apparently the groom would be arriving right at the same time as them, so the ceremony would start straight away! Irene was panicking, trying to cram her aunty into her fancy dress at the same time as putting on her own stockings and telling her husband where to find his tie. "Hurry up, they're getting married right NOW!" shrieked Dani excitedly.
"Cut the crap, pull it, pull it!" shouted Nines, as Fina wandered about asking plaintively, "Where's my skirt? Please!"
Gabriel kissed Jesús and straightened his tie affectionately, as the coach swerved around narrow English country roads toward their destination.
"Are we there yet??"
It was nearly ready. Except the dress, everything was somehow prepared, or improvised. Eva looked affectionately again at the silly bride and groom cake toppers she'd picked out. "They still look so cute," she whispered. "As if nothing had happened to them."
Belen smiled. "That's how they make them in China," she said, recalling their earlier conversation. But she added gently, "They love each other no matter what happens to them."
Eva hugged her old friend fiercely. Then they heard a noise, a sort of rhythmic throbbing. The blatting sound grew louder and they turned to see a white helicopter appear above the trees. A police helicopter? For a moment Eva panicked, thinking of the blackmailer - she'd probably broken his nose, after all. Had he gotten the courage to actually tell the police? What could she say to them? 'It's OK, because he tried to blackmail me with naked photos?' (Actually, wasn't that some sort of crime here now? Revenge porn, she remembered reading about it...)
"Shit!" shouted Six, speaking for all four of them.
Eva's mother-in-law was looking like a puzzled pink flamingo in her wedding finery and hat. "Who's that in the helicopter?" she shouted "The Queen of England?"
In the helicopter, Alex's plan was coming together just fine. "General, OK back there?" asked the pilot, "How are the ambassadors?"
"Yes sir, all just fine," Alex said, a crazy confidence filling his body. Maybe it was Franco's uniform, maybe it was the fact he was finally - at last - going to see Eva. Going to marry Eva! On either side of him, his father and Fermín were shaking with excitement. "Carry out the procedure," Alex said authoritatively, sliding his sunglasses back into place.
"Yes sir!" said the pilot. The helicopter started to come in for its landing beside the pool of the English country hotel.
Eva could make out the helicopter more clearly as it came closer - it was actually going to land! There was a man in a formal suit in the window. A wedding suit! It was her papa! Which meant - and the door was opening, the men were getting out - the one in the middle, in the khaki uniform -
"It's Alex!" she screamed, running toward him. He scrambled out of the helicopter and ran toward her too, taking off his peaked cap and sunglasses, those crazy braids on his shoulders bouncing as he ran. They collided and hugged fiercely, Eva wrapping herself around Alex as if nothing could pry them apart. They kissed desperately, coming up for air only to look at each other again. Eva's smile was so wide it was actually hurting her mouth, but she couldn't stop. "What's with the suit?" she laughed, "You had quite a trip, General!"
"It's not my favourite uniform," he agreed, smiling. Then more seriously, he added, "I promise, on our golden wedding anniversary, we're going no further than Logrono."
Eva adored that he thought so far ahead. Alex. The man with a plan. Who else could have made it with a volcanic ash cloud, a general strike, and no way on earth to reach her? "I never want to be apart from you again," she breathed, alive with happiness. "Never, ever."
Alex broke from their kiss again to say ruefully, "Eva - I lost the dress." He looked so crestfallen, she kissed him again for reassurance.
"We'll have to get married like this," she said, and in that moment, it truly didn't matter to her. She was wearing a sweater - so what? At least it was cream coloured. And she had flowers in her hair, because her friends had put them there. And she had Alex. Nothing else mattered.
"One thing I have to do, and I screw it up," he said, still upset with himself.
Eva shook her head. "Never mind," she murmured. "I just want to forget about these days, and spend the rest of my life with you."
"Me too," smiled Alex, and kissed her again for a long, delicious moment. "Eva, forgive me, please? Look how I jerked you around. I lost your dress - I got here late - you've had to put up with my mother - " He was smiling and almost crying at the same time. Whatever he'd done in these last few days must have been hard on him too. "I'm a total disaster," he grinned.
But nothing compared to me, thought Eva miserably. Well, she had to tell him sometime. And better before they got married, so he knew what he was getting into. What an irresponsible girl she'd been -
"Eva, is everything all right?" Alex asked, worried. He could see the anxiety in her eyes.
"I slept with another man," she said quietly.
"What?" he asked, dumbfounded. His mother overheard and gasped theatrically, and her friends grabbed each other and grimaced. Eva saw they'd been filming the bride and groom's reunion, but Six put down the phone for now. Her papa pinched the bridge of his nose.
Alex looked at her for a long moment. "Do you - do you want to be with this guy?" he asked eventually. He was still embracing her.
"No! Of course not!" said Eva. "I just - I - I was partying with the girls to celebrate the wedding. And we had a few drinks and the next thing I remember, I was waking up next to some creep from the pub. He - he took pictures - he threatened me - " She broke down into sobs.
Strong arms were still around her. Alex hadn't left. "Hey, hey, sshh," he said, gently. "It's OK. I'm here now." He stroked the back of her neck and didn't seem to have plans to move.
Eva blinked up at him. "You're not angry?" This final revelation hadn't gone at all the way she thought it would.
"At you? No, of course not!" Alex blinked. "We're going to spend our lives together. One crazy guy can't change that. Besides, I know after one drink you pass right out. Whatever happened isn't your fault. But you said he threatened you - where is this fucker, anyway?"
Eva would admit, if pressed, that she had never seen Alex as a tough guy - but this journey had revealed a whole other side to him she'd never noticed. She was a little bit scared for the blackmailer if they ever crossed paths. Eva was laughing now with relief, half-swallowing her tears. "No, it's OK," she giggled, "We took care of it, me and the girls."
Her bridesmaids nodded and Alex looked a little taken aback. Six punched him in the arm affectionately. "We handled it," she said gruffly.
"We'd do anything for Eva, you know," added Tatiana. "Including beat you up, if you ever get weird about this, or sleep with a masseusse!" she promised.
Alex turned back to Eva, with a smile that was just for her. "Well, it sounds like there's only one thing left to do," he said tenderly.
"You're not seriously still going to marry this slut?" asked his mother sharply, her pink sleeves flapping with rage. Oh - ! Alex's face turned to stone and he looked as if he wanted to punch her in the mouth. But just at that moment there was a great engine roaring and a shout of "Wedding! Now! We want a wedding!" rang out merrily from the garden gate. A motley, ragtag band of determined revellers burst into the English country garden, fine clothing flapping in the breeze, holding gifts, babies, bottles of wine, leftover stockings and shoes. Their guests had finally arrived!
The next half an hour was a whirlwind. They'd planned a ceremony where they met at the top of the outdoor 'aisle' but it turned out that Alex and Eva simply didn't want to let go of one another, so they walked up togther, arm in arm. Alex was still wearing the silly uniform, and Eva found that she didn't mind one bit. It even made him look quite dashing. The English civil officiant was a bit overwhelmed by all the Spanish spoken (and shouted) but gamely made it through the ceremony and managed to even draw a tear from Alex's father's eye with a well-chosen piece of Spanish poetry by de Quevedo. Throughout it all Alex's mother didn't make a peep. It seemed the men had bonded during their trials and tribulations on the way here, and Alex's mother (Eva's mother-in-law now!) was firmly sat-on and not allowed to make a fuss by her husband. Eva and Alex signed the registry book as husband and wife. In English, like a romantic novel, just the way Eva had dreamed of it. Well, maybe not quite exactly the way. She hadn't pictured being dressed in a fuzzy beige sweater-dress at the time. Or smiling so widely her mouth hurt.
Just as they were taking the official pictures of the signing - only allowed as a fake, after the real thing had happened, explained the officiant - another quaint English custom! - they heard a commotion in the garden. There was a police car pulling up onto the lawn, blue lights flashing.
"Oh no," gasped Eva. Had the blackmailer told someone what happened?
"What now?" sighed Alex's sister Irene, in such a world-weary way everyone couldn't help but giggle with amusement.
"I - ahem - think that's for me," said Alex, blushing. He stood up and handed himself over very politely as the police surrounded him.
"You are under arrest for the impersonation of a General, the unauthorised ingress to an air-traffic controlled zone, and for illegally entering the United Kingdom," the policeman told him as they took him away. "You're in big trouble, sonny." Alex had time to grin reassuringly at Eva before he was crammed into the police-car and the door was slammed shut.
"Hey - hey, you can't arrest him!" said Six indignantly. "He just got married!"
"Besides," added Irene practically, "He's an EU citizen. Now he's here, does it matter how he got here? Can't he just stay?"
"You can't take him away!" pleaded Alex's mother, pink sleeves flapping imperially and fascinator falling out of her hair rather spoiling the effect.
"I think you'll find," sniffed one policeman, smoothing his moustache with his hand, "that we can and we will. Sorry to bust up the party, folks," he said insincerely. And they drove away into the damp English afternoon.
The partiers were still making a go of things outside, enjoying the drinks and the band who'd decided to turn up. It wasn't the one they'd booked, but some substitute - a peculiar English folk group who insisted on trying to tell everyone how to dance as they did it, instead of just playing something lively and getting out of the way. There were joyful sounds and the occasional interruption of what sounded like someone throwing up in the shrubbery. Probably Aunt Lilli. But Eva was sitting in the study, quietly looking out the window and thinking about what a strange wedding night this was. The girls were sitting around, chatting quietly - every so often trying to think of ways to cheer her up.
Then Eva's father came in. "Eva, love, whatever just happened - happened," he said, "The main thing is, you're still married. And if Alex is going to jail here, at least he knows English ... " His terrible attempt to be reassuring trailed off. "Eat something, have something to eat at least," he added kindly, giving her a plate of hor d'oevres from downstairs.
Eva nodded, downhearted. "Thanks, Papa," she said softly. She remembered agonising for so long over what flavours to pick for these little pastries - and why? The only thing that mattered in this whole occasion had been taken away from her. What point was there?
Eva's eyes were drawn to the shelves. She idly scanned the old books in the study and noticed one of them - could it be - yes, it still had one of Alex's old labels on it. 'Property of Alejandro Fernandez'. She opened it and found something even more unexpected. It was in Alex's writing. For her.
'Eva - we're made for each other. This may sound weird to you, especially after not having talked to you all summer.' Eva felt tears spring to her eyes. 'But if you'll let me, I can offer you a plan you can't refuse. Why don't we go out together? And if we like it, we can get married, and if we like, have children. And grow old together. Which with the advances of modern medicine, could be a long time. Will you be part of my plan?'
Eva turned the piece of paper over in her hands. He must have written down that little speech he gave her on the exchange trip all those years ago - planned it out, drafted the perfect version. It was so Alex. "He loves me very much," she whispered to herself. "And I love him. So," she decided aloud, "I'm not letting him get away. Not tonight. Not ever. We'll go together, whatever happens."
The girls nodded, encouragingly.
"Should I go get him?" Eva asked, suddenly.
"Of course!" said Six, tears in her eyes as well. They all rushed out of the room, no clear plan in mind - but perhaps Eva could come up with a plan on the way...
The suit and briefcase were working. Eva had been buzzed in at the door without any questions. All she had to do now was convince the bored-looking secretary in the holding area of her authenticity. "Excuse me, is one Alejandro Fernandez being held here? I am his solicitor, I've been instructed to pay him a visit." Eva put on her very best English accent, trying to sound as 'posh' and as confident as possible.
The girl at the desk nodded, and gestured at one of the doors with a code-lock on it. "Oh yeah, that foreign bloke? He's in cell 1. No other takers this evening. I'll get one of the lads to let you in to talk with him." She pushed a buzzer on her desk. "Derek? Visitor for cell 1, please."
"Thank you," said Eva, heartfelt. He was here. She had found him!
A fat policeman who must have been Derek came in a few minutes later, sipping from a mug of tea. "All right, Miss?" he said, yawning. Perhaps it was the end of a shift for him. "I'm afraid we can only give you twenty minutes or so with the prisoner tonight, but I hope that should be enough for now?" he asked, pushing a code into the holding-cells' door pad. 1-9-6-9, Eva saw. Oh, the year England had won the World Cup Final. Why were the English so obsessed with that? She'd never understood. The policeman led Eva through to a little corridor with only three cell doors. She guessed in this sleepy village, they were never full to capacity. The individual doors had a code, too, but that one was just 1-1-1-1. Derek saw her looking and shrugged apologetically. "Never got round to changing it," he explained.
When the cell door swung open to reveal Alex, it was all she could do not to take him in her arms then and there. But that would have ruined everything. Eva could see Alex taking breath to exclaim a welcome to her, so she spoke quickly in English,
"Hello Mr Fernandez, I'm Ms. Austen. Your family called me in to discuss your legal situation. Things aren't looking too good for you at the moment, but I believe we can remedy some of the charges with a plea of mental disarraignment due to your impending nuptials."
" 'ull leave you to it," said Derek's departing voice, sleepily. The door swung shut. The coast was clear.
Alex grabbed her hands. "OK, Eva, what's going on?" he asked wildly. "What are you doing here? Pretending to be my lawyer? Isn't that a crime?"
"It's quite simple," Eva replied, hugging him. "I made up my mind never to be without you again. So if you're going to jail, I'm going with you." She winked. "But we're not going just yet. You see - I have a Plan..." Eva sent her text. "We have about five minutes now, give or take. Shall we talk about your 'case'?" Alex grinned with complete trust and kissed her.
Alex and Eva were a little distracted by the time they heard the sound of an alarm going off in the police station. When Six burst through the door she looked indignant. "Come on, there'll be time for that later! Let's go!" she shouted.
As they ran out they saw chaos reigned in the station. Irene was lying on the floor foaming at the mouth (toothpaste? wondered Eva) and thrashing around as if she was dying while the policeman who'd been guarding the door tried to take her pulse. Alex's mother was setting up a continuous wailing as if she was a banshee. Gabriel had managed to make it look like he'd burned his eyebrows off - no, that was an actual injury, Eva hoped it wasn't serious. There was a puddle of jelly spreading across the floor and a strange smell of fireworks in the air. Derek was in the midst of what looked like a passionate clinch with Tatiana, oblivious to his surroundings, and the receptionist's head was moving from one to another to another of Alex's aunts, who were all talking ten-to-the-dozen at her, looking dizzy. "Come on, come on!" yelled Six, charging through the chaos with their hands firmly held in hers.
Outside, the cool night air was a welcome relief. The car waiting was another surprise. "Papa, how did you get hold of that?" asked Alex, in shock.
"I have always wanted to drive an Aston Martin," purred his father in satisfaction, which wasn't really an answer. On the back, someone had sprayed in bright pink foam the words 'Just Married - And Escaping'. Eva began to laugh helplessly.
"Go, go, go!" shouted the others, and they roared away into the damp English night.
### CODA ####
INCREDIBLE SCENES IN THE ENGLISH COURTROOM
Couple's defense: 'We were acting in the name of love'
Kiss in front of Jury sways stern verdict
To the Editor of the Combe Chronicle,
I have to say the recent events in the quiet village of Castle Combe have quite confirmed my opinion of foreigners. This country would be better off without them, never mind what Maureen of Little Dribbling says about bringing in valuable tourism revenue. First hijacking a cheese rolling competition with quite unorthodox violence (the very first rule of cheese rolling is of course the Elbow, never the Knee!), then engaging in Grand Theft Helicopter and the impersonation of an Ambassador, and finally an escape from a Police Station! It is like something out of a film, and NOT the kind of film we enjoy showing at the Women's Institute Film and Gardening club. The final straw in my view was their getting off completely 'Scot Free' after a maudlinly sentimental appeal to the jury's Emotions. Honestly! All true born Englishmen should be ashamed of this sort of behaviour. It just goes to show [letter cut for length, Ed.] and good riddance, I say.
Perturbed of Lower Gasket, Badger-le-Sough.